Saturday, March 08, 2008

VideoJournalism Training

Image: news executives in Berlin discuss the virtues of videojournalism and the future of journalism on the web

Visual journalism, do you need training ?
Either way whether it's a one year or one week course you'll have to push treacle. Ultimately, even with the most inspiring trainer it's all about you.

A senior newspaper exec returning from DNA, the news event in Brussels, tells me talk of videojournalism and how well it's being executed was quite sobering.

Of course one of the recuring themes of videojournalism is how it's generally inferior to TV; it's been a big stick since way back when, though if you read some of the comments here about the UK's first and only VJ-driven station back in 1995 from industry figures there was then and is now light in the distance.

Critics do have a point, but the validity cuts both ways.

There are in any discipline talented beings and those found wanting.

Videojournalism stands in the locker room more naked because:

  • it's the low hanging fruit - anyone can do it.
  • More VJs means of course a greater number of people who may not exhibit nominal competence (whatever that is)- same thing happened with photography.
  • In photography the industry sought to differentiate the amateur from the professional - you'll hardly hear that distinction in Vjism. That is you're either a VJ or not.
  • The training regime is dramaticaly different within the industry, primarily because there is no one standard. It means different things to different people. So whilst TV makers believe its roots are in TV, newspaper execs tend to believe its something geared towards the photojournalist.
  • Training levels are also different to the halycon days of TV and its mandatory training when if you wanted to work in TV, you went to various courses and then had to jump through hoops as a freelancer, before after months or years of showing how good you were you finally given a contract.

    This last point can be a sore one for many professionals whom see a generation of televisual practitioners assuming the rank of TV producer/videojournalist after a few months following say a weeks training.

    Slogging is still the standard bearer in the mainstream media.

    At an industry gathering for young wannabe media people and interns one BBC exec lamented how they have to vet candidates calling themselves producers working in the industry when their experience amounts at best to that of a researcher.

    Snobbishness or does he have a point?

    No Short Cuts
    It's easy to take this practice for granted, something my co-colleague Rob Benfield - a former TV director, commissioning editor and all around 35 years veteran - and I discuss ever so often.

    Students on Masters courses have a year to practise and experiment to hone their new skills and even then that's just the beginning.

    A view therefore is long/short course training can give you technique, but the creativity is all down to you.

    In fact a simple principle offered to students can provide them with adequate VJ technique in 15 minutes. We used the same standard to train Ghanaian journalists filming in South Africa in one evening.

    But ultimately the visual grammer of film making resides in the student's passion for experimenting and possessing a growing catalogue of film/VJ knowledge and deconstructing technique.

    You simple can't learn a language by treating the training day as a surrogate.

    Quite a number of VJs hail from an industry where visual grammer is part of the discourse. If not they're pressed to practice day in, day out their new language, visual language, just as you would do learning a 'foreign language'

    Does this mean short courses don't work?

    Not at all. Fot many of us , short courses have been the necessary taster or even spring board to a mor indepth excursion.
    I learned CSS in 4 days and how to drive after 15 lessons.

    CSS was not going to make me a creative web designer, my susbsciption of Computer Arts and Web Design would help there, coupled with a few death marches and as for driving a Lewis Hamilton, I'm definately not.

    Technique and Form
    But there is technique and form used in training that short circuits reading a whole 500 page manual.

    They are distilled observations, tried and tested means, converged practices between one discipline and the other.

    Modifiled versions of the classic Aristotelian Arc, at which point you're either thinking "what!" or "yeah".

    I noted skimming online that Media Bistro has a seminar: How to Use Plot to Structure Your Fiction - The secrets of building and creating powerful storylines.

    Appled to film, which Hollywood invariably does - which explains why movies can seem formulaic, it's the great fall back position for VJ making.

    The message from DNA according to the Executive I spoke to who's at the forefront of shaping his international media organisation is that Training Matters.

    And it's not a one stop shop.

    Sadly that can often be misconstrued for trainers making more money of their clients; that should not be the case.

    Training matters because film, videojournalism is a living art and it will evolve during the passage of time.

    Having said all that, I loved reading about the advice the director and husband of Madonna Guy Ritchie gave his friend Jason Statham when Jason felt he needed acting lessons to launch his hollywood career.

    Naah you'll be like the rest of them from RADA was Ritchies advice, and look where it's got Statham now.
  • 1 comment:

    Cliff said...

    I needed this David. Have hit quite a slump lately questioning why I jumped in with both feet into this new paradigm.

    I learned photojournalism by simply doing - no formal training. I loved every second of the profession and wish I hadn't left it back in the late 90's. Now trying to get back in seems like starting all over again. I sorely wish I could attend the VizEd advanced workshop in May but circumstances dictate otherwise.

    Looks like I need to put my nose to the grindstone and just learn it as I did back in the day of shooting film...

    Thanks for a great post.


    Cliff Etzel - Solo Video Journalist